AS I SEE IT - 9/01/2000
by: Bob Magee
REFLECTIONS ON THE PASSING OF A FRIEND: BRIAN HILDEBRAND... A YEAR LATER
'I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories...
I'm so tired but I can't sleep
Standin' on the edge of something much too deep
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard...
But I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories...
I Will Remember You' (Sarah McLaughlin, Seamus Egan, and Dave Merenda) (c) 1999
Welcome this week to WWF Inferno at http://www.wwfinferno.com, The Balrog's Lair at http://www.geocities.com/jpalazzolo and UKWWF.com at http://www.ukwwf.com, who are carrying AS I SEE IT beginning this week.
I can't believe it's been a year already.
It was a year ago on September 8, 1999 when Brian Hildebrand died after a long battle with cancer.
There are few people within the wrestling industry who have been so universally and genuinely beloved at the time of their passing. When people eulogized Brian, the words they used weren't the kind that social obligation requires. The words were deep and heartfelt.
Mick Foley pretty much agreed when he said about Brian in his bestselling book Mankind: Have A Nice Day: "Brian brought out all the better angels of our nature".
As the Sarah McLaughlin song prefacing this column indicates, all too many times we keep our thoughts inside us when they are screaming out to be heard. That is even more true in a business like professional wrestling, where where trust among those within is all too often at a premium...hell, where the very basis of the whole industry is based on the lie that we more politely call a work.
But Brian was such a very special person that he inspired all of us who were friends, family, fans, or co-workers to share our feelings on such a funny, dedicated, committed individual who has been and always will be an inspiration to live each day of our lives to their fullest... and to follow our dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.
As I said in last year's column after Brian's death...it was almost eerie, yet at the same time totally expected, when I got the news while in a funeral home at a wake for the uncle of a friend, after being called by a family member via cell phone.
I will always remember Brian Hildebrand as a man who lived for and loved the wrestling business more than anything else on this earth, except for his beloved wife Pamela. He got to live his dream of making a living in wrestling as referee Mark Curtis for Smoky Mountain Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling. Brian Hildebrand was a man who lived to the last day of his life with more courage than anyone I've ever had the privilege to know.
Brian fought stomach cancer for nearly two years, after being diagnosed in October 1997. He refused to allow cancer to stop his incredible spirit and his wonderful sense of humor. He seemed amazed and somewhat embarrassed at all the attention his battle with cancer received.
As I've often said, I had the privilege of knowing Brian Hildebrand for six years, since Smoky Mountain Wrestling's Fanweek 1993. Brian is responsible for two of the most special experiences of my life, Fanweek 1993 and 1994. For those who aren't familiar with them, SMW Fanweek was held every summer from 1993-1995. Fanweek was made up of a traveling road show, combined with barbecues, Q&As, and marathon videotape parties....and just a chance to mark out with other wrestling fans.
Brian Hildebrand was the reason these yearly Fanweek celebrations were possible, because of his non-stop organizational work during the weeks leading up to them; and during the moment to moment problems that occur when one is trying to please 55 human beings and Jim Cornette, AND work as referee "Mark Curtis" all at the same time.
Brian always did this with such unfailing patience, good humor, never forgetting to still be a fan of the very business he worked in. That's the reason why he always used the word "Mark" in his ring name.
My oft-told and favorite Fanweek story involves the time in August 1994 at Fanweek that I had to go with Brian to Knoxville's West Town Mall to get Jim Cornette a new tennis racquet. It seemed a local fan had taken it upon himself to steal Jim's racquet at a SMW house show the night before. Brian and I went to a sporting goods store and got the racquet. The clerk fell all over himself meeting "Mark Curtis". I stood and watched.
As the clerk rang up the purchase, he asked me "Can I help you, sir?". I replied "I'm just here with Mr. Curtis".
We walked away into the Mall to grab lunch, and Brian asked me (referring to my keeping kayfabe) "How in hell did you just do that?"
My reply was "Because you and Jimmy taught us to remember that your folks down here 'still believe'." It can safely be said that Brian Hildebrand did that very thing for his entire career in the wrestling industry.
It's the reason that he was honored at the Eddie Gilbert Memorial Weekend in Philadelphia in February 1998. He was the surprise honoree at the Gilbert Memorial Banquet on February 27, 1998. Brian had called me days before the Banquet, wondering why Jim Cornette and then NWA-NJ promoter Dennis Coraluzzo were calling him numerous times to make sure he was coming.
Brian said "Bob, what in hell is up here?" I replied, not wanting to ruin the surprise, but knowing he'd smell me fudging a mile away... "Well, if you actually got Dennis to return a phone call...if you got Corny calling that many times in a week...I'd bring a suit...and be prepared to say something".
The tribute that Jim Cornette did for him at that Gilbert Banquet was pure Cornette, totally irreverent as usual, but also with great feeling.
The kind of person Brian was is also the reason that WCW honored him with a night dedicated to him later that year on Sunday, November 29, 1998 at WCW's show in Knoxville, Tennessee; with a classic match of Chris Jericho/Eddie Guerrero against Dean Malenko/Chris Benoit... and with Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen presenting Brian with a championship belt, then getting Brian involved in the finish to count the pin. That Knoxville show was an event reported all over the wrestling world, and not just for the quality of the matches.
Then on July 30, 1999, there was the "Curtis Comes Home" show in Rostraver, PA. Jim Cornette, Shane Douglas, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Tracy Smothers, Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch, Public Enemy, Dominic DeNucci, Al Snow, D-Lo Brown, Terry Taylor, Les Thatcher, and Sandy Scott took part in this tribute in Brian's hometown.
Brian kept himself going through such sheer will and determination despite a physically devastating form of cancer that he actually refereed a match for Southern States Wrestling only days before his death. He had the often-expressed hope of returning to work fulltime for WCW, and never gave up that dream.
Even after his death, Brian kept inspiring people. At this year's Brian Pillman Memorial Weekend 2000, a "Mark Curtis" Memorial Pro Wrestling Fantasy Camp was held on May 24th. As it did for "Curtis Comes Home", the often contentious relationship between rival wrestling promotions dissolved for a day to honor Brian.
Featured trainers were Shane Douglas, Billy Kidman and "Hugh Morrus" of WCW, Dr. Tom Prichard, D'Lo Brown, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Perry Saturn of the WWF; along with Heartland Wrestling Alliance promoter/event co-organizer (along with Dean Malenko) Les Thatcher.
You can read about the camp experience of Liz Malone, who attended the Hildebrand Fantasy Camp at her website dedicated to the Camp at http://hometown.aol.com/rbmstooge/myhomepage/index.html.
As the "Mark Curtis" Memorial Pro Wrestling Fantasy Camp was happening, I imagine that Brian was up in Heaven getting a kick out of Liz Malone, the only woman among a group of guys, smaller than all the rest...not giving up on her dreams. No doubt, she reminded Brian very much of himself.
While a small man in stature, Brian showed us all a giant heart that is an example for us all. There's no doubt in my mind whatever that he admired it in someone like Liz Malone. But there is little question who the person most deserving of admiration really was.
It can be said that at the time Brian Hildebrand left this world, he knew he was loved and respected by all within the business he himself loved so much.
For those who wishing to send their thoughts to his wife Pamela on the anniversary of Brian's passing, or to send contributions to the Brian Hildebrand Memorial Fund; you can do so at the following address: Pamela Hildebrand-Murphy, 1351 Gentry Road, Talbott, TN 37877-9015
Rest in peace, dear friend. You will be missed more than you can ever know.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)